The bathing days:
The pinnacle event of the Kumbh is bathing in the Ganges at the moment the waters are said to have turned to
Hindus give great importance to the performance of this ritualistic action, and believe that complete submergence of the
body under the sacred water, at the time of the Kumbh, will cleanse them - and their ancestors back to the eighty-eighth
generation - of all evil and sin.
The most important of the bathing dates (the spiritual planetary positions are carefully worked out by astrologers)
are the shahi shan bathing days. These are when the Akharas (great congregations of Sadhus) conduct a royal (shahi)
procession, which culminates with a dip in the Ganges (snan).
For the shahi shan, bathing follows a particular sequence. The Nagas are first to take the plunge and do so with
great sobriety. All ornaments are discarded and the Sadhus approach the water in couples, wearing flower garlands.
After bathing in unison, holy ash is applied and they return to camp. After the various Sadhu orders have bathed,
the pilgrims take their bath. Despite the large numbers wishing to bathe, pilgrims will wait for the Sadhus to finish
as then the water will be charged with even more spiritual energy.
At the Kumbh Mela 2001, the shahi shans are on January 14th, 24th and 29th.
(See bathing calendar for more details).
Another Hindu incentive to visit the Kumbh Mela is to receive the blessings of Sadhus, Saints and Yogis and have
Darshan. Darshan is to look at or have vision of a divine image and if the viewer has respect and adoration, then
the Sadhu will transmit their spiritual energy.
The Procession of Holy Saints:
Hindu men look directly at the Sadhus and other holy men, while women must avert their eyes from the naked Sadhus,
but by coming into close proximity they will still have Darshan.
Millions of pilgrims make their way through the Sadhu camps, hoping to be blessed by as many as possible. They will
also offer goods to Sadhus, which are sacrificed to their gurus. In a number of cases, particularly food, the Sadhu
will consume the goods, but if not, they are distributed to the pilgrims as Prasad. Prasad translates to Food from
the Gods, which the Hindu pilgrims believe will hold additional spiritual energy.
As well as the bathing processions, there are ceremonial parades to mark the official entry of the Holy Men into
the city at various dates in the beginning of the Kumbh.
These are immensely grand affairs where the holy saints travel on a variety of conveyances - elephants, horses, camels,
cars, palanquins, and chariots; some even pulled by their devotees to highlight their devotion. This is not just an
excuse for a good show - even though the different Sadhu sects often try to outdo each other - but a chance for pilgrims
to experience the transmitted waves of spiritual energy, shakti, and feel spiritually lifted by the event. The Warrior
Sadhus (Nagas) are usually the first to start these processions and are showered with petals as they walk.
Considering the spiritual significance of the Kumbh Mela, it is an extremely auspicious time for religious
ceremonies. Most important of these are the initiations at which thousands of Sadhu novices will be welcomed into
the life of the Hindu ascetics. Many are teenagers, though a number will be a lot older and some will even be Western
tourists who have been captivated by the Sadhu way of life.
Alongside these initiations, older Sadhus will be elected into administrative roles in their orders, or receive
promotions, and many will undergo a second initiation where a vow is renewed or another ascetic practice is taken on.
The vast quantities of holy men gathering at Kumbh mean it is an ideal time for secular administration and
management. Religious committees and conferences meet throughout the Kumbh Mela.
Some will discuss practical issues of the Hindu faith while others will make appeals to the government. This year,
there is a strong move to ban cow slaughter throughout the entirety of India - a hot political issue. This will be
campaigned for by the revered Pontiff of India, Shankaracharya Periyar Shri Jayendra Saraswati (see Characters).
Each order of holy men also holds its own meetings: each Akhara, religious order, forms its own authoritative body.
This collective of eight Manchants (leading Sadhus) controls the affairs of the Akhara by unanimous decisions.
There will be some Sadhus at the Kumbh who practice astrology and palm reading; predicting the future for those who
pay a small price.
Feeding the masses
Aside from the Sadhus, there are soothsayers who forecast in more unusual ways: some read shadows, faces, nails and
some even base their predictions on parrot-speak.
A number of the Sadhus and other leading holy men will be in charge of offering food to the pilgrims.
Many of them lead orders at rich temples where they daily feed hundreds of poor people.